Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If a Tree Falls in the Forest and . . . Doesn't Kill You

In July 2010, I narrowly escaped being crushed by a one-ton tree limb that fell just feet from where I was hiking in a local Metropark. Two months later, the very same thing happened while I was hiking along a gravel road in a state nature preserve a hundred miles to the north. Let me add that I’ve been a walker and a hiker since I was a kid, frequenting forest paths, rural highways, and city streets, usually solo; in all those decades, I’d never had a brush with a breaking tree. Then I had two within two months.

Reactions to my double-death-dodges have varied from “Guess your time isn’t up” to “I’d watch my back if I were you” although some people are more spiritual in their word choice. This appears to be another of those infinitely numbered issues on which the world is divided into two points of view: either I was spared, or “they” (whoever that is) missed me that time. In the former scenario, I should be grateful. In the latter, I’d better be watchful.

Back in July, I had just passed under a spectacularly tall cottonwood when I heard a resounding crack, a whoosh, and a thundering thud, and felt a waft of displaced air. Without having to move, I was clear of the death-branch, though not by much. I spun around and stared at the expanse of wood and greenery that logic told me was supposed to remain aloft. My mind slowly registered what had occurred. And what had not occurred.

In September, the splintering thunder roared directly overhead. Although my physical response may not have been graceful, it was automatic. I did not look up or around. I darted across the one-lane road to the edge of the wetland, my feet sliding to a stop at the same instant the gargantuan half-tree struck the ground. I watched it bounce in place and settle.

What I wonder is whether my quick reaction the second time was a learned response, thanks to my experience in July, or a reptile-brain response based on the proximity of the unnatural noise. In other words, was I stunned and slower in July because I had had no personal experience with spontaneously falling tree limbs, or because my brain knew before I did that I was clear of the kill-zone? Was my deft, death-defying sprint in September due to a learning curve or a hardwired neuromuscular reaction that simply wasn’t required in July?

As for the “was-I-spared” or “was-I-warned” debate, I’ll spin it this way: two potentially fatal falling limbs in two months remind me that I’m fully alive. I have things to do, people and critters to love, and no way to know what wonders lie ahead. Fate may play a role, but I’m thanking my higher power first. The mind-body connection intrigues me, too. I’d love to know which matters more, skill-building or biology. What matters most is that I’m still living, still learning . . . and still learning to pay attention.

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Blogger Nina Wright said...

I should add that weather conditions were ideal when both tree limbs fell: clear and windless.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Nina Wright said...

In related recent news . . . this woman didn't escape injury, but she lives:

10:24 AM  

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